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Tapped: Espionage and the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens

The story of the largest espionage scandal in modern Greek history:

9 March 2005

“…Costas Tsalikidis, a network manager for Vodafone Greece, was found hanged in his apartment on the morning of 9 March… he was just 38 years old… The official verdict was that Mr Tsalikidis had committed suicide.

The next day, the head of Vodafone Greece walked into the office of one of the prime minister’s top aides to inform the government that its phones had been bugged for at least eight months.”

2 February 2006

“Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and several ministers had their mobile phones tapped for more than a year, the government has confirmed… The taps are reported to have begun before the Athens Olympics in 2004 and lasted until March last year… About 100 mobiles belonging to politicians from both parties are thought to have been monitored. “The phones tapped included the prime minister’s, those of cabinet members, one former minister, now in opposition, and others…”

13 February 2006

“Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has announced tough new rules for mobile phone operators in his country… The prime minister warned that mobile phone operators could face fines of up to 2m euros ($2.4m; ?1.4m) and a temporary suspension of their licence… The new rules could pose problems for Vodafone Greece, the network provider targeted in the tapping. The British company is Greece’s second-largest mobile phone provider, and has 4.4m subscribers.”

24 March 2006

“A … committee in Athens has been questioning executives from two of the world’s leading mobile phone companies, Vodafone and Ericsson, about the scandal.

But attention is also increasingly focusing on the alleged suicide of [Costas Tsalikidisa], senior Vodafone manager just after the phone-tapping operation was discovered on the Vodafone network last year. In a statement issued last month, just after the story about the phone-tapping operation first broke, Vodafone categorically denied there was any connection between his death and the scandal. “Any attempt to connect these two is, to say the least, irrelevant,” it said.

But his family believe his death is suspicious and are calling for his body to be exhumed so a second post-mortem can be carried out by one of the world’s leading forensic pathologists, Dr Michael Baden of the United States. “They believe they will find new evidence,” says the family lawyer, Themis Sofos. Dr Sofos adds that other parts of the original investigation were weak. “No one went to the house of Costas, no one took photos and to see the circumstances of his death… no one took fingerprints.”

Family and friends of Costas Tsalikidis believe there are strong indications he was the person who first discovered that highly sophisticated software had been secretly inserted into the Vodafone network in 2004, enabling at least 100 phone lines to be constantly tapped. “The end of January or early February (2005) I think is the time Costas had access or took knowledge of the interception system and he (re)searched about its function and origin,” says lawyer Themis Sofos…

But there is another theory about Costas Tsalikidis: that he was allegedly the person who actually inserted the software setting up the phone-tapping operation… The theory is put forward by John Brady Kiesling a former American diplomat [who served from April 1983 until March 2003 as a Foreign Service Officer of the U.S. Department of State] who worked at the US embassy in Athens until resigning in 2003 over the US-led invasion of Iraq. He is convinced American intelligence agents were behind the whole bugging operation and he says it is possible they used Mr Tsalikidis to install the software. “I believe he committed suicide to protect his professional honour,” says Mr Kiesling.

As for why the Americans would tap the phones of the political and security elite of a country regarded as an ally, Mr Kiesling… argues American intelligence agencies would not have trusted the Greeks with the massive security operation surrounding the Athens Olympics in August 2004 set up to counter any potential terrorist threat. “They believe you cannot trust foreigners, that foreigners are incompetent and of dubious trustworthiness,” he says. “You owe it to yourself if you have the capability, to have an independent ear listening to them and I think that is what this was.”

This might also explain why the Greek government kept silent about the scandal for almost a year from March 2005 when it was informed about it, until last month when it finally held a news conference detailing what had happened. The news conference took place shortly after a Greek newspaper had broken the story.”

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